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It’s like I’m a self-directed learner or something. Some of my ALF friends write amazingly, and I really wanted to be like “Hey, just write and get all that fascinating, useful, beautiful storytelling out of your head and onto this page so I can read it. Then let me fix the punctuation and grammar so other readers don’t get distracted by technicalities. You flow, I’ll frame. Good?” And it was good! Except that editing people’s websites and blogs requires both permissions and know-how. Fortunately, enough of my friends like my copyediting (and are way too busy writing to worry themselves about it) that they quickly offered to become teachers and allies.

So I’ve been practicing for three weeks now…and I’ve gotten comfortable enough to have found some composition flow of my own.



I’ve been writing questions on forms and answering them for the FAQ & Challenging Questions sections of both the website and Starter Kit. I’ve been writing descriptions of tools and practices, re-wording the explications of our principles, creating a narrative walk-through of an ALC-NYC day, describing what facilitators do, drafting comparisons of ALC to other alternative education philosophies, expanding that to a history of education contextualizing ALC and those philosophies, and in between editing everybody’s everything (that I have their consent to edit, of course).

One of the questions I wrote on one of the forms was How did you get here?

It’s a good question. I’d love to hear your answer.

Threaded through mine are various subplots, including the one which explains why I have enough books to even think about writing a history of education (mostly schooling…mostly European and American industrialism-and-beyond schooling…). It’s a pretty interesting subplot, if I do say so myself, filled with existential crisis and paradigm shifts and lots of subversion. It’s really barely a subplot, if I’m honest. I never forget it’s there. Tonight, though, I rediscovered a subplot I had forgotten about: the one where I almost survive getting educated without it beating the beauty out of my writing. Without it beating the love of writing out of me. Without it beating the idea that I could write things worth reading (even without statistics!) into particles of dust that blew out of my dreams on the wake of a beetle wing. Which is to say, nearly without me noticing.

I don’t really want to answer How did you get here tonight. And I don’t want to get into the kinds of unschooling adults involved with ALCs go through…it’s nearly midnight and my eyes hurt from hours of Google Docs and website gazing.

What I do want to do (and I’m almost done) is to acknowledge–we talk about “unschoolers” and we mean kids doing not-school. They’re building. They’re creating. They’re moving forward. But mostly they’re not having to un-anything, because they haven’t been schooled. It’s us who have the work of unschooling ourselves, the task of deconstructing while we’re inventing and building on the same patches of ground. I see lots of us doing it–parents, ALFs, college kids who come in to intern, slightly-older-than-college kids who come into volunteer–I see you. And you’re amazing. And it’s so hard sometimes. And it’s so scary sometimes. And it’s so magical so often.

I want to acknowledge you. And us. Because I tend to keep my messier processings tucked behind my right ear or slipped between my shoulder blades…but…sometimes one falls out and I want to shine a light on it. I want to cry out “Hey! Look at this dull, useless, ugly story! I’ve been trying to edit it into something worthwhile, but it might be beyond saving. Only problem is, once I scrap it, I have to write a new one…not just edit, but write.”

We’ll laugh. You’ll reassure me I get to use lots of semi-colons, parentheses, and lists. And I’ll happily go back to finishing that Starter Kit chapter, as if I weren’t just remembering what it feels like to write with conviction(.)


In which she has a weird[er so than usual] week and re-learns things she forgot

This morning, there was a full solar eclipse and a super moon. Over other continents. I have astronomical envy…especially since we’re getting snow here in NYC, on this first day of spring.

I’ve been trying to keep my personal life energies and ALC life energies separate this week more so than usual, and I felt like I was succeeding in doing that mostly…being here so fully (as always) when I’m here and home when I’m home. Sitting down to reflect now and hold the two next to each other, they’ve both been full of challenges, surprises, small gifts, and reminders of things I knew and forgot.

With some of our more powerfully grounded and inspiring curious teenagers off-site, a newer student struggling to hold focus during meetings, two younger visitors who also struggled with meetings, two culture committee submissions to address on Monday, interns and volunteers cancelling or calling out for various reasons, AND THEN Ryan and Douglas both getting sick…the week was a bit of a struggle. Mostly at beginnings and endings of days. And Monday and Wednesday when a certain avid Red Crucible player brought some intense (and infectious) game rage to the MakerSpace. Things were feeling super imbalanced for most of the week, and I found myself with both shakes and headaches almost constantly.

But we had @Tomis <3 this week. Monday, we had a teenage girl visit, and she played hours of MM with Askani, Lyla, and Thanos before they all worked on helping Tomis create text for a webpage he’s working on. Tuesday, I played Hobbit Loveletter for the first time (the game isn’t widely available yet…It was discovered on a trip to the Uncommons, where it’s available for play and purchase before it hits the market). Wednesday, I was so present to my gratitude for my amazing partners in this work (and how awe-some this work is and how awe-some my life is) made me feel somewhat invincible. Thursday, I had a blast in the park with Jesse and Lyla. And today I watched Labyrinth with Askani, Alfie, Timo, and a rotation of Oliver/James/Logan/Adin. Then Alfie and Logan wrestled in the dark with David Bowie blasting in the background and my laughing a lot.

Between winter, kids growing, and new teenagers enrolling, I’ve been doing lots of salon-style facilitating. This involves sitting somewhere (usually with a cup of tea) and doing something with my hands (drawing, wire weaving, fidgeting) while we have philosophical conversations about everything. It’s been lovely–my academic brain has been quite happy–but when the balance tips again towards high energy munchkins and the weather turns warm for a second, I’m reminded of a bunch of aspects of facilitation that I’d forgotten about. Like helping kids learn to share and use their words to solve disagreements. Checking before leaving if anyone needs the bathroom. Making sure there’s a spotter for those jumping off furniture onto mattresses. Explaining how things are spelled, what signs say, and what different organs do to fascinated audiences (Your heart’s a muscle?!?). Declaring my love for a friend, being challenged by a 6 year old that if I don’t want to marry this person then I don’t love them, and getting to answer that there are lots of kinds of loves (***munchkin***mind***blown***). Facilitating for slightly less self-aware humans is always super fun and humbling the first time I do it after a long break. Especially when they want to race through the park and climb trees. They challenge me and constantly remind me not to be such a boring grown up 😉 They make me feel absurd for taking little things too seriously and forgetting how quickly time flows, with changes constantly inspiring new growth and breathing new life into old lessons.


The Smell of Pony Noses

There’s a giggle-filled werewolves game happening in front of me. Between a crackling fire and a giant group kanban. @themadhatter is DM-ing and dancing, next to the kettle heating water for my mid-day mint tea. Most of the other adults are missing, helping install windows in a community member’s addition, around the inverted pine tree whose roots appear to hold up the [presently snow-covered] green room. In a few minutes, I’ll leave the laughter of the werewolves group to go stack wood before the sun sets.

Welcome to day three of the ALC-NYC visit to QIV-C/Cloudhouse.

We took a couple of trains up Monday, after a quick set-the-week and Culture Committee at ALC-NYC. Things in the city were pretty calm, but as we got farther north the weather got more and more precarious. Our second train was delayed, so we hung out on the platform and admired the actually-star-shaped-snow-flakes for a while. Then when we arrived to Wassaic, our rides to Chatham were delayed…somewhat by snowy roads and somewhat by flipped milk trucks (we saw one!) blocking roads. Everyone kept in good spirits through our four hours of travel, in spite of circumstances which would have been easy to get pessimistic and whiny about.

When we got to the farm house, we gathered around to dine on chili that my friend Chuck (who has been visiting Bear) made for us. We discussed agreements for staying as guests here, then played werewolves and read and played card games. Bear and I went night sledding a couple of times, celebrating snow deep enough to disappear my boots, leg warmers, and sometimes knees. Our first night of screens-off-at-nine / lights-off-at-ten went smoothly, and people found places to sleep without any problems.

I slept down by the fireplace, so I got to wake up to sunlight on snow and an old tree [which I remember dancing barefoot around back when the grass was green and soft]. Soon, though, the quiet of the morning gave way to egg skillets sizzling, refreshed kids playing, reminders to clean up our cleaning spots to ready the space for the day, phones pinging with texts from parents and friends, and early scrumming of daily activities.

When we convened for morning meeting, we scheduled sledding time, many rounds of Coup, MM, Hip-Hop Lyric Analysis, building a Fox Hole radio, playing League of Legend (and Counterstrike and Minecraft and Compendium), more sledding, Clue, Stratego, Werewolves, cooking, dinner with the community, and a demonstration of the tin Rocket Stove that Paul just built. I went sledding both times, and I took a nice long walk by myself in the woods (with some time just laying in the snow, listening to the sky). I watched many of the board/card games, and I helped cook some. I helped hang and then played on aerial silks. I sketched the people around me, and I collaboradoodled with Askani and Javair. I contact improv-ed with Bear, Douglas, Javair, and Askani. And I had a wonderful time seeing friends at the community dinner.

Today Javair and I made pizza from scratch for everyone’s lunch. It was awesome fun, but also chaotic. We had spilled ingredients and non-cooks buzzing around the kitchen asking for specific toppings, asking when we’d be done, and asking questions they had already asked but hadn’t heard the answers to amid their excitement. The contented quiet that fell once we finished and everyone started eating felt really sweet in contrast. Javair and I high fived, then I put on my boots.

I went for a walk to thank the land and snuggle with the horses. Even with all the beauty and amazing people around me and everything going very smoothly with the trip, a few small worries were threatening to eat my brain. I was unwilling to let them take me away from the wonder of being here, so I went to find the solution. For me, for years, this has meant trees and pony noses. There’s something about putting my face against a pony’s and petting its velvety nose that magically quiets my mind and heart every time. I’ll settle for horses when ponies are unavailable…the effect is usually the same.

After my walk, Charlotte and I went upstairs to the room where Askani was reading and Bear was napping. We drew them for a bit, and then it was time for Charlotte to lead a yoga class. Chuck and I were the only two who came to the class, but we had a good time. Then I hung out with David and Luca, sitting in a sunny window and talking until Werewolves started. Bear had taken Thanos to see the horses, and then he, Ryan, and Chuck all went to help Gens work on his house. I stayed behind, drinking tea in the kitchen while Milo DM’ed Werewolves. Like…while watching Milo announce Werewolves and watching all the kids who were screen-brained close their computers immediately and leap from their chairs to gather in a circle around their DM. It was inspiring enough that I started this blog post while watching them.

Um…and then…the internet allows for time travel, soooo it’s three hours later. I may have been pulled from blogging by requests for snacks, the start of a stage combat class, firewood stacking, and the flurry of activity in the kitchen as Bear choreographed Thanos, Adin, Douglas, and Alfie’s dinner making.

After dinner, we’ll probably make candles, play a big group game, and explore an archetype chart (one I’ve never seen young people interact with, but experienced Bear’s facilitation of at ALF Summer 2014). And we’ll probably play Coup. And drink tea. And surprise ourselves with other fun things.

Love it here 🙂


*It’s been pointed out that I use “Cloudhouse” (and ALC-NYC to some extent) in reference to the people of that community rather than the space they inhabit here at QIV-C. Sometimes this confuses folks. It feels pretty accurate to me.

Brainpickings Gem for New Years

Famous thinkers’ self-growth resolutions? Thanks, Brainpickings!

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions. I dread being asked for my “resolution,” as for most of December and January the word conjures in my mind a memory of facebook-feeds-gone-by filled with well-meant and mostly ill-fated resolutions to go to the gym every single day. Or the sincere and enthusiastic promises to “be happy” or “be healthy” or “be” (presumably “become”) some other undefined state.

Before you ‘bah humbug’ me, know that it’s not that I think little of any of the folks whose status’ I’m thinking of…it’s that I think a lot of them. I want feelings of strength and happiness and health for each of them, and I know they can accomplish anything they set out to. But “set out” is a verb. “Accomplish” is a verb. These things require thinking about personal definitions (what does being an embodiment of happiness look like to me?) and planning, choosing, changing, metamorphosing…which I find often feels pretty magical in retrospect but feels suspiciously like work in the moment.

Honest reflections, personal goals, action plans and other such reminders to be a dynamic human being, I can dig. Pausing for a breath at the end of our calendar year, around the winter solstice, between approximate halves of the school year sounds like a really nice ritual. Setting a time to meet and write up lists of projects/goals for the next six months and talk about plans to actualize our intentions [which @ryanshollenberger gathered a group to do yesterday] sounds interesting and productive. And reading thought-prompts about ways to grow myself sounds like how I want to start my winter reflection every year.